Donegal is probably one of the most unspoiled counties in Ireland and for sure one of my favourite. With its dreamy landscapes which range from endless white beaches to stunning cliffs, from wild national parks to cute small towns, this county is the perfect place to discover the unspoiled beauty of Ireland. Hop on in your car, use Sligo as your starting base and drive all the way up to Fanad Ahead lighthouse. You will love every single moment of your Donegal road trip!
You can find the itinerary on the map at the bottom of the page. This includes the following stops:
- Fairy Bridges
- Tullan Strand
- Slieve League
- Narin Beach
- Carrickfinn Beach – Carnboy beach
- Glenveagh National Park
- Fanad Head Lighthouse
Bundoran city is the is the gateway to Donegal, being the first city you meet in the county when you drive from South to North on the Wild Atlantic Way. This city, which is called the queen of Donegal in the traditional Irish song “Beautiful Bundoran“, comes alive in summer. Bundoran is indeed a traditional holiday destination in Ireland, which had reinvented itself as a prime surfing destination in the last years. This city has become increasingly popular worldwide after it was listed by National Geographic magazine in 2012 as one of the World’s Top 20 Surf Towns. Today, this city is considered the surf capital of Ireland and attracts an increasing crowd of people willing to challenge themselves into the icy ocean. This city is also a perfect place to chill on the Bundoran beach, or also to have fun in the amusements parks Bundoran Adventure Park and Water World Bundoran.
Fairy Bridges are considered the hidden gem on the Wild Atlantic Way! This series of natural arches is so magical that locals thought it was haunted by fairies. Next to the Fairy Bridges there is the Bundoran Wishing Chair. Wishers are advised to sit down slowly holding on to both “arms” of the chair and then pause for at least 15 seconds to take in the stunning scenery that surrounds them – Donegal Bay to their left, Tullan Strand straight ahead and the Dartry Mountains to the right – and then make a wish.
Just outside Bundoran there is Tullan Strand. The waves here can be almost two metres high and they are a magnet for surfers of every level. The view of this beach with the stunning backdrop of the Sligo-Leitrim Mountains is breathtaking. The sand dunes make this place even more beautiful.
Slieve League cliffs
A stop at Slieve League is a must while visiting Donegal. Slieve League cliffs are among the highest sea cliffs in Europe and I am sure they will take your breath away! The Irish name for the cliffs in Irish is ‘Sliabh Liag’ meaning the Grey Mountain. These cliffs are the perfect alternative to the Cliffs of Moher if you want to experience a less touristic and crowded place. Slieve League cliffs are about three times higher than the Cliffs of Moher, though less steep.
The Slieve League Cliffs are located in the coastal district of Glencolumcille. A winding and narrow road takes you to a car park for big vehicles. If you are in a car, you can open the gate at the end of this first car park (remember to close it behind you as it is meant to keep livestock from straying) and continue driving to the Bunglas Viewpoint. Here you can park the car and enjoy the truly breathtaking view from the platform. If you want to soak up the incredible atmosphere of the site, you can follow the cliff path all the way to the top and enjoy the scenery.
Be ready for close encounters with mountain sheep and diving seabirds during your cliff walk.
All beaches in Donegal are amazing, but I have a soft-spot for Narin beach. This wild sandy beach is immense. It is about two kilometres long and it never gets too crowded even during the rare summer days in Ireland. The colours of the meandering golden sands and blue sea are just unreal, especially when the sun is out.
Located approximately 250 meters from the mainland, there is Inishkeel island. When the tide is low you can walk from Narin out to the island. With its early Christian churches, holy wells and beautifully decorated stone slabs, this island is well worth a visit. The tide allows you about an hour to visit the island, before walking back again. This beach is also a premium spot to enjoy the great sunsets of the west coast. On the beachfront, there is also a lovely and small hotel. It is the Carnaween house, which conquered me with its amazing decorated sea-themed accents and crisp white walls. The view from the outdoor terrace is stunning. What’s better than having breakfast with this view to start your day?
Carrickfinn Beach – Carnboy beach
Carrickfinn is an extensive sandy beach located in Gweedore Bay, in the heart of the Irish speaking area known as Rosses. The beach is popular for bathing, walking, bird watching and watching for dolphins from the shore. It is beautiful, but the parking area is quite small and some days it’s hard to find a parking space. You can find a valid and quieter alternative to Carrickfinn Beach and the end of the Carnboy Peninsula.
Drive past the airport, turn at the sign for Trá (which means “beach” in Irish), then left again where signposted Trá, just at the northern edge of Carnboy Lough. The beach is just south of a small pier. It is a stunning hidden gem that cannot be missed. From the pier, you can also explore the Donegal coastline by kayak, thanks to the tours organised by rapidkayaking.
Glenveagh National Park
Glenveagh National Park is a 16,000-hectare park located in the heart of the Derryveagh Mountains. This wild oasis offers many beautiful hiking trails and it is home to the largest herd of red deer in Ireland. The access to the park is free. In the Glenveagh National Park there is also the beautiful Glenveagh Castle, which can be accessed by guided tour only. On the park website you can find admission prices and opening times of the castle.
Fanad Head Lighthouse
At the end of the Fanad Peninsula, there is the Fanad Head Lighthouse, voted one of the most beautiful lighthouses in the world. This lighthouse was built after the shipwreck of the HMS Saldanha. The only survivor of this tragedy was the vessel’s parrot, which bore a silver collar inscribed with the ship’s name. On the Fanad Head Lighthouse website you can find the prices and the opening hours to plan your visit to this amazing place.
If you want to explore more lighthouses in Ireland, visit the website greatlighthouses.com to discover all the lighthouses of the Emerald Isle which are worth a visit.
I love road trips because they give me the opportunity to travel at my own pace and be able to stop wherever I like. Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way is one of the most scenic drives in the world, so if beautiful views catch your eye, don’t hesitate to stop enjoy the breathtaking sceneries this route has to offer. For example, I decided to pull my car at the Largy viewpoint to enjoy a peaceful view of the sea.
From this viewpoint, you can see four counties (Donegal, Mayo, Sligo and Leitrim) and enjoy a good coffee at The Pod, a cute mobile coffee bar with super friendly staff.
Also the drive across the Fanad peninsula offers suggestive views. For example, while I was driving by Glenveagh National Park, I stopped because I saw a cute little church surrounded just by nature and I had to take a photo of it.
Here it’s the map of my Donegal road trip. Hope it can be useful!